by Ryan Zempel

Oct 23, 2005

HOLLYWOOD – Wow. That about sums it up — wow.

Saturday was the first full day of the Liberty Film Festival, and it included some films that were simply incredible.

The morning consisted of the “New Visions” program — six films created by new conservative filmmakers. They ranged from good to fantastic. I was gratified to discover that three of the six — “The Parable,” “Powers’ Needle,” and “A Temp for All Seasons” — were fictional narratives, an indication that the festival is expanding beyond documentaries (more on that in a subsequent column).

“The Parable” (17 min.) tells the story of a man who believes in God crossing paths with a violent, amoral man. While the film was good, it contained a bit too much incessant drumbeating (building suspense … and building suspense … and building suspense … and finally just getting on the audience’s nerves) and was a bit heavy-handed in making its point at the end.

“Powers’ Needle” (23 min.) came next, the tale of a young man dreaming of heroism in the past while shirking responsibility in the present. The cinematography of this one was impressive, but the narrative thread was a bit hard to follow.

The third narrative shown was “A Temp for All Seasons” (10 min.), a somewhat humorous story of the repercussions that occur when an office temp refuses to lie. While the acting and production values were pretty good, the script itself was a bit too cliched. That was quickly forgiven, however, when I learned that the movie was produced in one week as part of the 168 Hour Film Project. Given the time constraints, it’s an extremely impressive achievement.

The other three short “New Visions” films were “Sealed For Your Protection,” “Stop Bitching, Start a Revolution,” and the incredible “365 Boots on the Ground.”

“Sealed For Your Protection” (12 min.) addressed the removal of the cross from the Los Angeles County Seal and featured interviews, with Townhall.com columnist Dennis Prager, former L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn, ACLU lawyers, and L.A. residents. The documentary was very well done and had the ideal interviewer in free speech advocate Anna Z. (picture a slightly kinder and gentler Ann Coulter).

Documentarian Evan Maloney made an encore appearance (after his “Brainwashing 201” the night before) in “Stop Bitching, Start a Revolution” (7 min)., in which he interviewed left-wing protestors at Bush’s 2005 inauguration. Maloney has mastered the art of faking sympathetic agreement and letting his interviewees’ foolishness shine through. Incidentally, if you’re looking for the conservative version of Michael Moore — in a good way — Maloney’s your man.

The absolute showstopper of the morning, however, was Sergeant Kc Wayland’s “365 Boots on the Ground” (58 min.), documenting his year-long tour of duty in Iraq. Armed with a homegrown helmet camera and the Army’s blessing, Wayland captured footage of his time in Iraq and assembled it extraordinarily well. If only one of the “New Visions” films ends up being widely distributed, I hope it’s this one.

Saturday afternoon featured several longer films that were equally impressive. A fantastic historical documentary, “Emancipation, Revelation, Revolution” (92 min.) took us back in history and looked at the foundational role of the Republican Party in abolishing slavery and fighting for civil rights. It included much untold history, including that the first 23 African-Americans elected to Congress after the Civil War were all Republicans, and contained interviews with Shelby Steele, Townhall.com columnists Armstrong Williams and Star Parker, Niger Innis, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Mason Weaver, Alveda King (niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Gloria Jackson (great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington). It was very well done and is long overdue.

The afternoon also saw the U.S. premiere of the “Voices of Iraqi Freedom” — Kurdish shorts from the first Iraqi film festival. Created with an anti-terrorism and anti-violence theme, these extraordinary films are now touring Iraq. They are a result of Kurdish/Iraqi filmmaker Jano Rosebiani’s program to train young Iraqis to express themselves artistically through cinema, rather than through violence.

In addition to the shorts, Jano Rosebiani’s narrative film “Jiyan” (93 min.) was shown. The title character (“Jiyan” also means “life”) is a young orphan girl who is befriended by a Kurdish-American man who comes to build an orphanage in her town of Halabja. Halabja was a victim of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks in the late 1980s, killing many of the residents, permanently damaging the survivors, and causing subsequent children born there to be deformed. The environment is still contaminated, making wind storms a danger to those who live there. “Jiyan” is an extraordinarily moving, life-affirming movie that needs to be seen.

All told, it was an extremely impressive day at the Liberty Film Festival and extraordinarily encouraging to see the work conservative filmmakers are doing.